Russell Martin’s two-out RBI single in the eighth inning provided the edge for the Pittsburgh Pirates in Wednesday night’s scintillating 5-4 triumph over the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park.
The Pirates’ march to their fourth straight win – all against the Cardinals in this current five-game series – was an improbable one. Pittsburgh (65-42) overcame a pair of two-run deficits against St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright, then leaned on effective bullpen work until Martin drove in Neil Walker for the game-decider.
Walker led off the bottom of the eighth against hard-throwing Cardinals righty Trevor Rosenthal with a hard single to right field. Following an Andrew McCutchen popout, Walker aggressively took second base on a long fly ball to left by Pedro Alvarez. That extra bag came in handy when Martin banged the second pitch of his at-bat up the middle to bring a boisterous crowd of nearly 34,000 to its feet.
That emotional congregation stayed cheering all the way through the ensuing inning break and didn’t let up until well after Mark Melancon capped a perfect ninth with a strikeout of Daniel Descalso. Winners of nine of their last 12 games, the Pirates moved 2 1/2 games clear of the Cardinals for first place in the National League Central. St. Louis has dropped a season-high seven in a row.
Pittsburgh will gun for an extremely rare five-game sweep Thursday night, a scenario that seemed quite unlikely early in Wednesday’s game. Looking to rebound from Pittsburgh’s Tuesday doubleheader sweep, the Cards snagged a 2-0 edge in the top of the first on singles by Matt Holliday and Descalso, part of a four-hit St. Louis attack in the opening frame against lefty Jeff Locke.
The visitors ended up collecting 10 hits against Locke, knocking the young lefty out of the game after the fourth. St. Louis had built a 4-2 lead by that point, with additional RBIs provided by Tony Cruz and Holliday. Locke fanned six but ran up an 89-pitch tally in his short stint.
Run-scoring hits from Pedro Alvarez (single) in the first and Walker (home run) in the third kept the Pirates within range against Wainwright, who struggled with control but still managed to throw seven innings. Clint Barmes’ two-out RBI double in the fourth gave Pittsburgh additional life, cutting the deficit to 4-3.
In the fifth, Starling Marte beat out a bunt single and stole second with no outs. Walker’s groundout moved Marte up 90 feet, setting up McCutchen’s line-drive sacrifice fly that tied the score. The Pirates had gone more than a month without a sac fly entering Monday, but they’ve hit three this week.
Bucco relievers Vin Mazzaro and Tony Watson accounted for two shutout innings each to bridge the wide gap to Melancon. Watson allowed two hits, but struck out three to avoid danger in the seventh and eighth. The Cardinals, MLB’s best hitting team with runners in scoring position, stranded 11 on Wednesday to continue their recent offensive frustrations.
The Pirates have won seven of nine this season against division rival St. Louis. Pittsburgh’s Charlie Morton (3.59 ERA) is scheduled to oppose the Cardinals’ Joe Kelly (3.44) in Thursday’s series finale.